You probably haven’t heard of Edward Blum, but if you are white, and you hate going to school with (or voting with, or serving in Congress with) black people or Latinos, then Blum is your personal hero. Blum has probably done more than anyone who does not sit on the Supreme Court to dismantle America’s civil rights laws. And Edward Blum is about to have the biggest week of his life.
Indeed, next week could be one of the most important weeks in the history of the Roberts Court’s racial jurisprudence, as the justices will hear back-to-back civil rights cases in just two days.
On Tuesday, the justices will hear a case that will make Congress much whiter if Blum’s position prevails. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, states are allocated seats in the U.S.House of Representatives by “counting the whole number of persons in each state.” Thus, non-voters, including those who are legally ineligible to vote, still count in determining how many seats each state will fill in the House. The state of Texas, like many states, uses this same practice to carve itself up into multiple congressional districts. Thus, each Texas district has roughly the same population, even if the total number of voters in individual districts will vary.
Evanwel v. Abbott, a case spearheaded by Blum, seeks to change this equation. If Blum’s position prevails, Texas will still receive extra representatives for the large number of non-voters — most significantly, the state’s non-citizen Latino population — who reside in the state, but it will be required to carve up its districts according to the number of eligible voters who live in the state. As a practical matter, this will shift representation away from Latino communities and towards Texas’s white voters — even though Texas will still receive extra seats in Congress for Latino residents who will be completely cut out of the districting process.
Then, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case that could potentially kill affirmative action in public university admissions. Fisher must overcome a jurisdictional issue that would scuttle the case if the justices apply many longstanding precedents, but a majority of the Court showed little interest in this issue when they heard the same case three years ago. And if the Court does reach the merits, there are five justices on the Supreme Court who are very likely to vote against affirmative action.
Blum is the godfather of both these cases. A former investment broker, Blum now oversees numerous efforts to tear down laws seeking to lift up racial minorities. Part puppet master, part matchmaker, Blum has built a “nationwide network of top legal talent who are often willing to offer their services at greatly reduced rates” to advance his pet cause. He then matches these lawyers with clients who allow them to bring one of Blum’s cases to court and funders who pay their legal fees.
And Fisher and Evanwel are hardly Blum’s first rodeos. Blum’s greatest victory to date is Shelby County v. Holder, the Roberts Court’s 2013 decision striking down much of the Voting Rights Act. That decision gave the green light to a wave of voter suppression laws that disproportionately harm minorities. Just two hours after Shelby County was handed down, Texas announced that a voter suppression law and a redistricting map previously blocked under the Voting Rights Act would take effect. North Carolina celebrated its new freedom to enact laws limiting racial minorities’ access to the franchise with what may be the most comprehensive voter suppression law in the nation. Alabama recently coupled its voter ID law with a plan to shut down driver’s licenses offices in many majority-black communities, thus limiting these black voters ability to obtain the ID they are legally required to have in order to vote.
As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her Shelby County dissent, throwing out a core provision of the Voting Rights Act “when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Blum’s one-man organization, which he calls the “Project on Fair Representation,” also played supporting roles in several other cases seeking to undo the progress of the Civil Rights Era. In Parents Involved In Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, the five conservative justices held that programs seeking to desegregate public schools in Seattle and Louisville violated the Constitution. Writing for himself and three other justices, Chief Justice John Roberts even claimed that these plans to enable black students to study alongside white students violated the Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.
The Project on Fair Representation filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs challenging public school integration.
Similarly, in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, four justices attempted to dismantle much of America’s housing discrimination law, claiming that every single court of appeals to consider the matter had read the federal Fair Housing Act to offer too much protection to victims of discrimination. Blum’s group filed an amicus brief asking the Court to go even further, suggesting that many of the nation’s anti-discrimination laws are unconstitutional.
Blum, in other words, dreams of a future where many laws paid for in blood by heroes of the Civil Rights Movement are not simply dismantled. He envisions a nation where these laws are forbidden by our very Constitution. In Fisher and Evanwel, the rest of the nation is likely to get a fairly clear picture of how eager the justices are to make Blum’s dream a reality.